Lewis grew up in Chicago and began taking piano lessons at 4 years old. He was a sworn jazz fan whose first band, the Clefs, began while he was in high school. The three band members who weren’t drafted in the Korean War—Lewis, Eldee Young, and Redd Holt—formed the Ramsey Lewis Trio. They would go on to perform regularly, release their first album on Chess in 1956, and ultimately release their Grammy-winning hit “The ‘In’ Crowd” in 1965.
Young and Holt splintered off to form their own band, Young-Holt Unlimited, while Lewis would go on to work with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White. His 1974 album Sun Goddess was produced by White and features members of Earth, Wind & Fire. Lewis became an NEA Jazz Master in 2007. He recorded prolifically throughout the rest of his life. A new Beatles Songbook album is due November 11, and his memoir is due in 2023.
“Ramsey’s passion for music was truly fueled by the love and dedication of his fans across the globe,” Lewis’ widow Jan Lewis said in a statement. “He loved touring and meeting music lovers from so many cultures and walks of life. It was our family’s great pleasure to share Ramsey in this special way with all those who admired his God-given talents. We are forever grateful for your support.” The family has asked for donations to the Jazz Foundation of America.
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